Bird Life
We are gearing up for the Welcome Back Shorebirds event on Saturday 21st September at the Toondah Harbour Foreshore and couldn’t be more excited!

We hope to see you there as we celebrate the return of our amazing travellers back to their home shores. If you are joining us be sure to come say hey on the day, we will be sporting our stylish Act for Birds t-shirts.

There is still time to RSVP but we understand not everyone will be able to make it. Don’t fret as there are other ways you can support our birds on the day.

We want to make hundreds of shorebird cut-outs to line up along the shore to highlight what is at stake if Walker Corporation’s Toondah Harbour development goes ahead.

Can you help us to make these cutouts and keep up the campaign to protect migratory shorebirds at Toondah Harbour? 

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The developer, the whistleblower and the minister – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

We are forwarding this information to you just in case you have not seen it on the news.
BIEPA has spent many years lobbying all three levels of government (federal, state and local) when making decisions that will have long term negative impacts on the health of our natural environment, to heed the commitments made in international conservation agreements.  BIEPA has asked that decision makers acknowledge that Australia has signed these agreements to protect and conserve the country’s natural assets and environment identified as being of international importance.
It is always disappointing to realise that, in reality, decisions are made without due reference to these international agreements (including national policies and legislations designed to protect Australia’s natural assets). It appears that honouring the inherent obligations in them is considered by decision makers as unimportant to the “common wealth” of Australians.
Birdlife Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation are joining forces with many environmental and community groups in an effort to protect the Wetlands and endangered migratory bird species from the Toodnah Harbour development.
Many thanks for your attention to this important issue.
from your BIEPA Management Committee


The developer, the whistleblower and the minister

A trip to Switzerland, a legal threat, department staff under pressure. A rare blow-by-blow inside account of how power and influence is wielded in a sensitive environmental approval process.

A tree on the horizon at Toondah Harbour south Brisbane.Photo: The wetlands of Toondah Harbour are protected by an international convention. (ABC News: David Lewis)When you look out at Cleveland’s Toondah Harbour at low tide, the first thing you see is the mudflats.

The mudflats stretch away into the distance, flanked by hills.Photo: The mudflats may look nondescript but they are home to a many bird species. (ABC News: David Lewis)Legend has it, this was meant to be the capital of Queensland.

But back in the 1840s during an exploratory trip, Governor Gipps got stuck in the mud and instead went up the river to what’s now Brisbane.

ClevelandPhoto: Shore Street, Cleveland, ca 1907 is pictured on one of the Valentine’s Series of postcards. (Source: Qld State Library)Cleveland never expanded into a metropolis like Brisbane. Its population sits at around 15,000.

But the local Mayor thinks it’s time the region was transformed into something bigger and more commercially focused.

Aerial photo of the area near Toondah Harbour.Photo: Many live on the canal system in the coastal idyll of Cleveland, Queensland. (ABC News: David Sciasci)

New premier cuts ‘green tape’

Karen Williams was elected the Mayor of Redland City in 2012 with the support of developers.

It was the same year a one-term Queensland premier who wanted to cut what he called “green tape” was put in charge.

Campbell Newman was elected on a platform of change.

He introduced an Economic Development Act to fast-track new projects in the state.

Under the Act, parcels of land could be declared “priority development areas” — or PDAs — and could bypass old planning and environment laws.

Mayor Williams shared Mr Newman’s zeal for getting things built and was determined to transform the region.

The council voted to back the application for a PDA, and in June 2013 the state government declared Toondah Harbour one of Queensland’s first priority development areas.

Expressions of interest were called for, and Walker Corporation was announced as the preferred partner.

Its $1.4 billion plan for the site included 3,600 apartments, a hotel, convention centre and marina.

Artist's impression of the Toondah Harbour development which will include 3,600 apartments.Photo: This is Walker Corporation’s vision for Toondah Harbour. (Supplied: Walker Group)But there was a snag.

Moreton Bay, where Toondah Harbour sits, was declared a Ramsar site in 1993, under an international convention that protects wetlands critical for biodiversity.

Around 40 hectares of the priority development area lies inside that Ramsar-listed wetland.

Enter the developer

In the last 20 years, Lang Walker’s company has donated around $2.5 million to political parties.

The Forbes rich list claims he’s worth over $2 billion, and he is behind a series of high-profile developments including Collins Square in Melbourne, the Finger Wharf in Sydney and Festival Square in Adelaide.

He has even built a luxury resort on his own private island in Fiji.

Lang Walker wears a suit and looks down the barrel of the camera. In the background is some kind of painting on the wall.Photo: Developer Lang Walker bought an island. (Walker Corporation)Bloomberg estimates the resort, near one of the world’s largest coral reefs, cost Lang Walker $100 million to build.

He named it Kokomo.

As a man who knows how to buy an island and has spent decades striking big deals in Australia’s largest cities, Mr Walker had the upper hand when he flew to Queensland to sign a memorandum of understanding with Redland City councillors at the historic Grand View Hotel overlooking Toondah Harbour.

The council gag order

Craig Ogilvie was a councillor at the time.

Former Redland councillor Craig Ogilvie stands on a snow-covered road.Photo: Former council member Craig Ogilvie says little time was given to consider the plans. (Supplied: Craig Ogilvie)“My impression of Lang Walker was that he was practised and slick and probably by far the most knowledgeable and smartest guy in the room when it came to doing deals of this type, and that was something to be nervous about,” Mr Ogilvie said.

I think … to a certain degree the councillors were starstruck.

Craig Ogilvie remembers the process as being rushed and secretive, and says the community was barely consulted.

He claims councillors had little time to consider the plans, and were asked to sign confidentiality arrangements that were quite stringent.

Background Briefing

The bird and the businessman

A billionaire developer wants to build on the protected habitat of an endangered migratory bird. So who prevails in a battle between conservation and construction?

Councillor Wendy Boglary has been on council since March 2008 and was the deputy mayor for two years.

She said she felt the confidentiality agreement was preventing her from properly representing her constituents.

“People are actually coming down to me and as they’re finding out what is happening at Toondah Harbour, they have grave concerns,” Cr Boglary said.

“They’re asking me ‘why aren’t I speaking out?’ and ‘why aren’t I representing them?’.

“So I feel like I’m letting my community down, which isn’t something I take lightly.”

Mayor Williams told the ABC confidentiality agreements protected the ratepayers as well as the companies who had signed contracts with the council.

She said the area needed investment in infrastructure, which a large project like the Walker Corporation’s would bring.

“We’re a city of islands, so we need to have transport hubs that connect our mainland to our communities on Russell Island right through to North Stradbroke Island,” Mayor Williams said.

Bar-tailed godwits fly low to the water, some standing on a sand bar in the harbour.Photo: Bar-tailed godwits in flight over Toondah Harbour. (Supplied: Chris Walker)

Political heavyweights bear down

With the council locked in, the Queensland Labor government endorsed the project in 2015.

But because the proposed development was on Ramsar-listed wetland, it had to be referred to the federal government for approval.

A development of this scale or impact had never been approved on a Ramsar-listed site in Australia.

Inside the federal environment department, which is required to provide impartial, expert advice on environmental issues, the alarm bells were going off.

In April 2016 Matt Cahill, one of the most senior bureaucrats in the department, wrote to Walker Corporation executive Peter Saba making clear what his experts thought of the project.

“The Department intends to advise the Minister to make a decision that the proposal in its current form is clearly unacceptable,” the letter said.

In other words, the department’s key advisers believed the proposal should be struck out immediately.

In response, Walker Corporation intensified its lobbying efforts:

  • In August, Lang Walker wrote to newly-elected prime minister Malcolm Turnbull congratulating him and asking for a meeting about the Toondah project. Mr Turnbull did not appear to take up that offer, but encouraged him to continue working with then-environment minister Josh Frydenberg and his department.
  • According to Queensland’s The Courier Mail, a special adviser to Mr Turnbull and a staffer were spotted that same month having lunch with Mr Walker at celebrity chef Matt Moran’s upscale eatery Aria.
  • According to departmental documents, Mr Walker met with Mr Frydenberg that same month.
  • Queensland’s then-environment minister Steven Miles and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad also wrote to Mr Frydenberg expressing their government’s support.
  • The ABC understands there were discussions in the department about whether the Ramsar boundaries could be changed so the project could go through and still meet Australia’s treaty obligations.

The Australian Government Solicitor responded with confidential legal advice that the boundaries could be changed if Australia invoked the “urgent national interest test” in the convention but warned that process could take years and involve international scrutiny.

FOI documents show over a 12-month period Walker Corporation convinced the department to delay the decision six times.

In the same financial year the development was sent to the Federal Government for approval, Walker Corporation donated $225,000 to the federal Liberal Party and $23,000 to Queensland Labor.

Walker Corporation’s Craig Addley, the project designer for Toondah Harbour, told the ABC the development’s processes were not influenced by political donations.

“I don’t make the payments or are not aware of the details around them but I think the important point is that this project will not be influenced by those things,” Mr Addley said.

Inside the political maelstrom

A departmental insider, who asked we not disclose their identity, said the pressure inside the department was intense.

“Those of us who hoped the minister would accept the advice, that carefully constructed expert advice, were disappointed,” they said.

“But then the department moved to accommodate the minister’s desires — so still providing advice to the minister about the range of impediments, still pointing out it was clearly inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar convention, but also searching for a pathway to accommodate that development.”

The insider also said the company and the man behind the project were important.

“It’s not some tin-pot development run by some small no-name company,” they said.

“This is Lang Walker. Everyone knows who Lang Walker is.

“Everyone knows he’s politically connected, there were stories he could pick up the phone and talk anytime to the prime minister. I don’t know whether that happened or not. That was certainly the view held.”

Minister rejects department’s advice

In May 2017, after 18 months of delays, Walker Corporation withdrew its original plan and submitted a smaller proposal, which still encroached on around 50 hectares of the Ramsar site.

A month later the department provided formal advice to Mr Frydenberg.

Despite all the back-room wrangling, the department said the second proposal remained “clearly unacceptable” because it would “result in permanent and irreversible damage to the ecological character of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland”.

However, Mr Frydenberg rejected that advice in June 2017.

Mr Frydenberg told the ABC he acted within the relevant legislation by sending the project for assessment by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS):

“Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, the minister has the opportunity to enable his department to undertake a full assessment of the project, and in doing so, get more information, which may lead to mitigation or offsets of any significant environmental impact that the project would have.”

He also said Walker Corporation’s donation history had nothing to do with his decision.

Referral a good outcome for Walker Corporation

The decision was a significant victory for Walker Corporation.

The project hadn’t been approved by the Minister, but it had cleared a significant first hurdle.

Figures from the Department of the Environment up to 30 June 2018 show that of the 96 projects that have been assessed by Environmental Impact Statement under the EPBC Act, only one has been refused approval.

Since that decision, Walker’s pursuit of the project has even gone international.

Its corporate adviser Stephen Davis, and Walker executive Mr Saba met with the Ramsar secretary general in Switzerland. The ABC understands they discussed the project.

Back at Toondah Harbour, there are competing views on what should happen next.

Mayor Williams said she hoped the EIS process would scientifically address environmental impacts.

That’s what the process is all about,” Mayor Williams said.

“Council’s done their bit.

“We’ve looked for a solution, we’ve got a tool, we’ve asked [the] community and now we wait for the Federal Government to go through that process if it stacks up.

“If it doesn’t then we’re back to square one.”

Birdlife Australia spokesman Robert Clemens said he hoped the development site would be reconsidered.

“This would be one of the last places you would choose to do something,” Mr Clemens said.

“It’s one of the jewels in this council region.

“If we take a step back and look at all the areas where we could put an apartment complex this would come out at the bottom of the list, surely.”

Listen to Steve Cannane tell this story on Radio National’s Background Briefing 8am Sunday on December 9. It will be replayed on Monday at 2pm or Tuesday at 12am, or you can listen online.

Topics: environmental-impactfederal—state-issuesgovernment-and-politicsenvironmentenvironmental-policybrisbane-4000qld

Disturbing Toondah Harbour revelations
6 December 2018

Shocking revelations about the national assessment process for the proposed Toondah Harbour development in Queensland is further evidence Australia needs stronger national environment laws and an independent umpire for project approvals, leading conservation organisations have declared.

This morning the ABC revealed then-Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg was advised by his department on multiple occasions the Toondah Harbour apartment and marina proposal should be rejected outright because of the damage it would do to an internationally protected wetland.

Only a handful of developments have ever been rejected under current national environment laws.

Documents show Minister Frydenberg in at least one instance rejected this advice and instead sent the development to the next stage of assessment. Other documents obtained by the ABC reveal the Queensland Government was also willing to remove areas from the internationally protected wetland to facilitate the development.

Donor Annual Returns lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission show the Toondah Harbour proponent, Walker Corporation, gave $225,000 to the Federal Liberal Party and $23,000 to the Queensland ALP in 2015-16 – the year the initial development proposal was submitted for national assessment. Documents obtained by the ABC suggest Walker Corporation also engaged in a campaign of legal challenges and lobbying to keep the project alive.

The Toondah Harbour development would destroy approximately 40 hectares of the internationally protected Moreton Bay Ramsar site – one of Australia’s most important migratory shorebird feeding and breeding wetland habitats. A third version of the development is currently at the second-stage of assessment under national environment law.

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said Australians should question whether state and federal elected representatives have been acting in the best interests of nature or those of a significant donor, in not striking out the Toondah Harbour development.

“There needs to be an independent probe into this matter. Australians have the right to be confident the natural world is being protected from irresponsible development, especially places as important as the Moreton Bay Ramsar site,” Ms O’Shanassy said.

BirdLife Australia Chief Executive Officer, Paul Sullivan, said the project should never have proceeded to this stage.

“The proposal to build 3,600 waterside apartments and a marina on a Ramsar site flies in the face of Australia’s international obligations. The Minister should have followed the advice of his own department and rejected this project outright,” Mr Sullivan said.

“Critically endangered migratory shorebirds like the Eastern Curlew rely on this important wetland for their survival. If approved, Toondah will set a dangerous precedent for 2,331 Ramsar sites around the world. The international community is watching what happens next.”

Humane Society International Australia Chief Executive Officer, Erica Martin, said the revelations highlight the urgent need for new environment laws in Australia.

“It is unacceptable that matters of national environmental significance are being ignored in the decision making process for major developments like Toondah Harbour. Australia needs stronger nature laws and a national Environment Protection Authority to take the politics out of these decisions and to ensure native wildlife and their habitats are given the protection they truly deserve,” Ms Martin said.

“The Department was right on the money in saying this proposal should be rejected outright, and it’s disturbing that Minister Frydenberg ignored this advice and opened the door to removing international protections for the sake of development. The Moreton Bay Ramsar site is priceless, and Australia must respect the conventions we’ve committed to.”